PARK CITY, Utah — Aaron Blunck dialed in a new trick this year — a double cork 1440. That’s two flips and four spins, high above the lip of the halfpipe.
It helped him win halfpipe skiing at the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colorado, in December. And it was key to winning the 2019 FIS Snowboard, Freestyle Ski and Freeski World Championships halfpipe skiing title on Friday.
Of the five Americans who hoped to defend their 2017 world titles in Utah this week, Blunck is the only one to successfully pull it off.
“I’m definitely psyched to defend the title,” Blunck, a two-time Olympian, said in a post-event press conference. “Did it last time in Sierra Nevada [Spain], so it was nice to do it here on home soil.”
On his third and final run, 22-year-old Blunck landed double corks in all four directions in the halfpipe — one of only two riders who can do this (the other is two-time Olympic gold medalist David Wise) — and threw the double cork 1440 as his second to last trick to score 94.20 and pull ahead of French veteran Kevin Rolland, who scored 93.80 on his first run. Canada’s Noah Bowman won bronze with a 91.60 for his first world championship medal.
“I wanted to land that third run because that’s what I’ve been aiming for all winter,” said Blunck. “I wanted to get that down and I did and am very stoked about it.”
But even after pulling ahead of Rolland, Blunck still was not sure he had won another world halfpipe title. Still to come were Canadian skier Simon D’Artois and Wise, who’s known for scoring his wins on his third and final run.
“Simon has been skiing arguably better and more consistently than anyone else this season,” explained Blunck. “He’s doing what I think is the hardest trick in the game right now, a switch 12 tail grab (going backwards up the pipe, then spinning three-and-a-half revolutions while grabbing the tail of his skis). He is so perfect on it every time. So, when he was dropping in, this is definitely the one dude who could take it.”
Blunck knew not to count out Wise either.
“David Wise is a very, very competitive person,” he said. “You know he’s always gunning for that top spot. He’s definitely someone who can lay it down on that third and final run, like what he did at the Olympics last year, he’s done it numerous times. You just have to hope for the best.”
“At the same time,” Blunck added, “I was just happy with the run I landed. That’s all I wanted to do today.”
Wise, who won back-to-back Olympic gold medals and was world halfpipe skiing champion in 2013, ended up landing three impressive runs but didn’t score higher than 86.60. He finished seventh.
“Any other day, if I had landed the caliber of runs that I landed today, I would have been on the podium for sure,” Wise said. “But not today. Everyone was landing great runs. I felt like I got heavily deducted for some of my small, small mistakes. But sometimes you get points and sometimes you don’t. That’s how today went for me. I’m still walking away pleased with how skiing as a whole performed and how I performed.”
Another surprise: Reigning X Games and Dew Tour winner Alex Ferreira finished eighth. But he was impressed with Blunck’s third run and the double cork 1440.
“I think that’s what separates him,” Ferreira explained. “He also does switch doubles both ways, which is very impressive. He’s got a technical run. He did great today.”
Blunck credited good health — this is the first season in a few years where he has not battled injuries — and improved confidence. He’s now working with fellow Coloradan Peter Olenick, a freeskier known for throwing the first double flip in a halfpipe.
“I’ve been using a new coach, Peter Olenick, for the last couple years under the radar,” said Blunck. “This year, I’m fully on board with him. I’m still using the U.S. team, but the support with him and the U.S. team behind me, the more the merrier. It’s definitely given me some confidence, not to mention that he’s a very close friend.”
Blunck was also very relaxed coming into the halfpipe skiing competition. His family and girlfriend are in town for the championships. And he had had a good week, enjoying the weather while others stressed about snow that fell for days.
From Crested Butte, Colorado, Blunck loves to ski powder and got plenty of it earlier this week. A storm dumped over a foot-and-a-half of snow in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains in the early part of the week. Blunck took full advantage of it.
“I just came in to today hoping for the best, just wanted to see what would happen,” Blunck said. “I didn’t really care what happened. I had a great week leading into the event, got to ski a bunch of powder, which is what I love to do the most. My family was here. I was happy.
“I didn’t care what happened at the end of the day, and I came out on top. Now I get to ride some more powder in Jackson Hole next week.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.